Alan Goforth’s recent BenefitsPro.com article discusses the increasing move by employers to address employees’ financial wellness with programs moving beyond retirement planning to include topics like budgeting, debt reduction, health care and home purchase.
He notes that a recent Aon Hewitt study revealed that more than half of employers currently offer an employee program in at least one of these areas and that three-fourths of large and mid-sized companies are expected to offer at least one such program by 2017.
Here are the 12 trends in employee financial wellness cited in the article:
- Behavior modification
Any successful program must focus on modifying employees' financial behavior over the long run. Workers view their employers as a trusted source of financial education. A financial wellness program focused on practical action steps toward lasting behavior change is an obvious solution for employers.
- Education, not counseling
Some employers have learned the hard way that financial counseling for workers can be risky. The danger lies in counselors promoting agendas or products that are in their best interests, not necessarily those of the employee. Because of this, there is a strong preference toward wellness programs that focus more on education and/or fiduciary arrangements. The No. 1 trend for employee wellness in 2017 will be a shift toward education over counseling.
- Strategic partnerships
The world of finance has become too broad and complex for one company to have all of the answers. Look for increased reliance on strategic partnerships. Partnering with the right financial professionals and leveraging the right technology will be key for employers to implement or enhance their financial wellness programs.
- Fiscal Fitbit
Employees love to monitor and track progress toward their physical goals, which is why wearable devices are so popular. Why not do the same with financial goals? Creating workplace financial wellness challenges that track and gauge accomplishment of financial goals will be a 2017 trend.
- Quantify the ROI
It's only logical that a well-thought-out financial wellness program will pay the employer back with improved retention and productivity. However, it is a good idea to run the numbers to be sure.
- Student loan relief
It's difficult for younger employees to plan and save for retirement while still paying off large student loans. Employers can help lift the burden by continuing to implement student loan repayment as an employee benefit in lieu of 401(k) savings.
- 24/7 solutions
Employees’ financial questions are not limited to nine-to-five, so you need a solution that is available 24 hours a day and is accessible anywhere from any device. Online programs not only provide around-the-clock access but give that layer of anonymity that the employee wants when it comes to issues dealing with their financial situation.
- Make it measurable
Tracking pounds lost or reduction in cholesterol levels is fairly easy. Measuring progress toward financial goals is trickier but just as important. Attainable goals for a financial wellness program can include increasing 401(k) contributions, improving employee engagement and loyalty, and decreasing the financial stress of employees.
- Election impact
The recent election results will have an impact on employee finances next year and beyond. Secondary trends could be the loosening of consumer lending in 2017 as Republicans look to address some of the restrictive aspects of Dodd Frank post-election. Employees could find themselves once again overextended, impacting 401(k) loans and participation rates. Holistic financial wellness programs that provide counseling options will help employers mitigate the negative impact.
- Holistic approach
Employees undergoing serious financial stress often will experience physical symptoms, resulting in reduced productivity and increased sick leave. That's why successful wellness programs consider the whole person. Another trend is collaboration between health-care/wellness providers and financial wellness providers in tracking the correlation among holistic health care (physical, emotional, financial, stress management and social); cost for the care; and the impact on employee productivity, absenteeism morale.
- Get personal
Experts agree on the vital role of technology. They also agree that employers ignore the personal touch at their own risk. For most people, behavioral change occurs when meeting with a financial professional, one-on-one, to create a financial plan to which they can be held accountable.
- Get in the Game
One of the best ways to maximize participation in a financial wellness program is one of the simplest – make it fun. Think outside the box to find ways to make fitness less of a chore and more of a game. Simply providing fancy tools is not sufficient to create behavior change. It requires effective behavior change techniques, such as gamifying participation."